When ‘BeLonG To’ first opened their doors, young LGBTI+ people travelled for as long as three hours to attend their youth groups, and access support services. Their national network was set up to provide nationwide support for young LGBTI+ people closer to home. They now work in partnership with Youth Work Ireland, Foróige, and several community groups to support almost 40 LGBTI+ groups from Kerry to Leitrim.
Today, BeLonG To are shining a spotlight on one of these groups, and what they get up to – the wonderful FDYS Wexford.
Below, FDYS talk about their LGBT youth support group in Wexford:
This year, for the first time, we travelled to Pride as an organisation and youth group. That was definitely the highlight of the year.
The lead up to Pride was so exciting, but the group was initially apprehensive about attending for the first time. To overcome this, we had open discussions about people’s concerns and worries, and put them into perspective. This helped us formulate coping mechanisms for any potential future negative situations encountered by LGBT+ young people. This helped build resilience in the young people, which is one of our prioritised outcomes within the youth group. We tackled issues such as how to deal with any potential anti-protestors on the day, any negative comments, and people who may not be as supportive.
Thankfully, we encountered none of these issues. Young people also went shopping for their own pride flags, and some even designed the flags with the message ‘Love is Love’ on them. It was a great opportunity to learn about where the entire pride movement began 50 years ago at the Stonewall Riots in America, and to learn the importance of continuing to fight for equality in Ireland, despite how far we have come.
What does a typical group meeting look like?
The sessions take place in our very own youth space, called the Cloister Youth Café. Our LGBTI+ group has evolved over the years, and is now integrated within the senior drop-in youth café. This ensures the integration and inclusion of all young people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
Everyone that attends the group is welcoming, warm, accepting, and non-judgmental, and even those who do not identify as LGBTI+ are accepting to anyone who comes into the safe confines of the youth space. The atmosphere is relaxed, and our group mostly like coming to a space where they can sit, chat, and chill out.
How would you say that your youth group has changed or impacted the local community?
Having an LGBTI+ group in the heart of Wexford Town, in a county-wide organisation, has a huge impact on the local and surrounding communities. The visibility created through our social media accounts and webpage, along with posters advertising the youth group, sends the message that the community is one of acceptance, support, and tolerance.
Exposure leads to normalisation. Attending events such as Pride, and opening the invitation to all FDYS projects across county Wexford, also helps in this, as well as delivering workshops to any project who requests it, and delivering the Stand Up Awareness Week training to teachers across the region ensures that LGBTI+ young people receive the support and response needed, when in the school environment. The aim is to reach as much of the community as possible, to ensure young LGBTI+ people grow up in a community that is equipped to respond to the needs of young people appropriately, and effectively.
The Wexford LGBT+ Youth Support is a group for 16-to-25-year-olds, that meets every Thursday from 5pm to 8pm, in the FDYS on Francis Street, Wexford. New members are always welcome. There is also a one-to-one support service for LGBTI+ young people, available from Monday to Friday by appointment.
· Address: FDYS, Francis Street, Wexford
· Phone: 053 912 3262
· Email: emma.whitty@fdys